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Heavy Turnout Reported in New Hampshire Primary

Officials in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire are predicting a record turnout in a critical first primary election to select the Democratic and Republican Party nominees for president. VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel spoke to voters in Manchester, New Hampshire and has details.

At the Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester, the lines of voters stretched from the voting booths down a long hallway, and out to the parking lot.

The voters came to the polls on an unusually warm and sunny day for this time of year, and many new voters stood in line to register.

Dianne Beaton overseas the voting at this polling station.

"You are seeing here today all of our folks that live in the ward in Manchester coming to vote for their particular candidate," Beaton said. "It has been a phenomenal turnout today."

State election officials are predicting a record turnout, saying they believe at least a half million people will vote in the primary.

As voters entered the church, they passed volunteers waving large signs for the major candidates.

Among the Republicans, polls indicate a small lead for Arizona Senator John McCain over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Surveys say former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the winner of last week's Iowa caucuses, is in third place.

Voter Rick Valenti is a registered Republican.

"I voted for John McCain. I like his experience," Valenti said. "I also like the fact that he is a veteran and he spent a considerable amount of time in a concentration [POW] camp serving his country and I think he will do a good job."

"Mitt Romney, I think he has a lot of strong ideas for the future and does not just talk about change, but has real plans and concrete ideas for getting out of war and great ideas about health care and immigration," said Erin Brown, a 21-year-old student at the University of New Hampshire.

Kim Vigneault says she was looking for a candidate who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

"I voted for Mike Huckabee because of his conservatism," Vigneault said. "I appreciate that, and that is what I think America should get back to."

Among the Democrats, public opinion polls show Illinois Senator Barack Obama with a significant lead over New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

Voter Chris Stark says Obama is his favorite candidate.

"I voted for Barack," Stark said. "He seems like a good candidate. He is very personable. He seems like someone I would like to hang out with. He has a really nice smile, and I think he is very honest. I think he would be a very comforting president."

A large group of voters who are not registered in either the Republican or Democratic Party will have significant influence over the outcome.

Independent voters makeup about 45 percent of the electorate here, and they are free to cast ballots in either primary.